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Student evacuees find home at HCC

September 14, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

Before Hurricane Katrina struck, Melissa Shows was on track to graduate in December and work at a hospital in New Orleans.

Today, a nursing notebook is the only proof she has of her studies.

Shows, 33, has not begun to add up everything she lost in the storm, but there is one thing she said she refuses to lose - her education.

Shows enrolled at Hagerstown Community College, where she is expected to graduate in the spring. The school has accepted two students displaced by the hurricane and plans to make special accommodations for those in need of financial assistance, HCC spokeswoman Beth Stull said.

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The college is not waiving tuition for students able to pay it. For those who demonstrate need, Stull said the college would determine whether the student was eligible for grants and scholarships before considering a tuition waiver. Stull said financial aid would be given on a case-by-case basis.

Shows, a nursing major, was attending Delgado Community College in New Orleans. The St. Maria Goretti High School graduate now lives with her parents.

Kelly Brennan, the other student, is a pre-nursing major from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. She is living at her brother's house in Hagerstown, Stull said.

Brennan was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Unlike public elementary and high schools in the state, public colleges and universities in Maryland did not get a set of guidelines for admitting displaced students. HCC President Guy Altieri said the college would be "flexible" in assisting the students.

State schools aren't required to waive tuition fees for the students, said Helen Szablya, spokesperson for the Maryland Higher Education Committee.

Registrars must rely on whatever academic and medical records students have on hand until the school is able to retrieve them from students' home schools. Director of Nursing Carolyn Albright said nursing students still have to show proof of their medical records.

Administrators reviewed Shows' nursing notebook Monday in order to determine which classes she needed to take in order to graduate. Albright said she should be able to take the classes she needs to complete her degree, but said she still is sorting through the details.

Shows said she stowed the notebook in a backpack, along with some textbooks and clothes, thinking she would be camping out and studying for a few days while she was away. She said she thought she would return to college and that things would be normal.

"I knew I had tests coming up," she said.

Delgado Community College officials said they were attempting to relocate students graduating in December and May to classes within the state. Shows said she came to Hagerstown to be with family and to ensure that she and her husband, Jesse, were out of harm's way.

HCC administrators said Shows could start classes as soon as next week, but they were trying to determine which classes she needed to take. HCC students started classes in August, but the school has a late-enrollment session that begins Oct. 21.

Despite the late start, Shows said she's thankful for the opportunity to continue her education. She said this graduation would have an entirely new meaning.

"There's a need for nurses now, especially after this disaster," Shows said. "I'm champing at the bit to start practical nursing."

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